The Tragedy and Liberation of Death

By Leo Babauta
Leo Babauta
Leo Babauta
Leo Babauta is the author of six books and the writer of Zen Habits, a blog with over 2 million subscribers. Visit ZenHabits.net
September 25, 2021 Updated: September 25, 2021

Recently my brother was hit by an unimaginable tragedy: he lost his 3-month-old baby, Tyler.

I’m still in shock and heartbreak. My heart is broken for him, for all of our family, and for this terrible loss.

I didn’t know Tyler, but as I begin to process this loss, I start to feel the loss of the future we won’t get to have together. Playing together, reading to him, riding bikes, throwing a ball around, having uncle-nephew talks out in nature. Celebrating his victories and his life. I mourn the nephew I didn’t get to have.

And of course, it makes me appreciate the nephews and nieces I do have. I’ve been thinking of all of them, grateful that I’ve gotten so many good moments with all of them. Tyler will be in my heart each time I get the gift of another moment with a loved one.

This sudden loss has prompted me to face my own death. I know it is coming, just not when. I rarely think about it because life is so in-my-face, but it’s there, waiting. Tyler’s death is such a stark reminder that we never know how much time we have left.

I’ve been contemplating this quote from a revered Zen teacher:

“From the perspective of many wisdom traditions death is seen as the ultimate moment for the complete liberation of the mind from all entanglements, all sorrows and all separateness.” ~Joan Halifax

And there is something liberating about this for me.

When I die, I will no longer imagine myself as separate from the world.

I will no longer imagine that I’m somehow inadequate. Nor worry about all the fears that come from that idea of inadequacy.

At the moment of death, I will suddenly no longer try to control others or burden myself with my judgments of others.

This is indisputable. And if it’s true, why can’t I just let go of those things right now? Why waste time trying to control or judge others, worrying about whether I’m inadequate, insisting on my separation from everything else? It all takes so much energy.

Why not just free myself of these things today, instead of waiting for the moment of death?

When I’ve been contemplating death, this sense of liberation has actually happened for me. It gave me a moment of complete freedom.

Thank you, Tyler. I love you and will hold you in my heart.

Leo Babauta
Leo Babauta is the author of six books and the writer of Zen Habits, a blog with over 2 million subscribers. Visit ZenHabits.net